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A Brief History of Yale Surgery

In 1810, the “Medical Institution of Yale College” was chartered by the State of Connecticut, becoming the sixth medical school in the country. The State Hospital (predecessor of Yale–New Haven Hospital) was founded in 1826, with 13 beds, and is the fifth oldest hospital in the United States. With the first house physician appointed in 1845, Yale has been training young doctors for more than 155 years.

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Yale Surgery’s first leaders were academic surgeons who made significant contributions in the areas of anatomy, trauma and oncology among others.

Nathan Smith, having founded Dartmouth Medical College earlier, came to New Haven in 1813 as the first Chair of Surgery and was instrumental in the early development of the School.

Joseph Marshall Flint (1907–1921) was a respected anatomist and surgeon who became the first full time Professor of Surgery at Yale, devoting all of his efforts to the now common triad of patient care, education and research which are the hallmark of modern academic medical centers. Flint began a formal residency in surgery based on the model developed by William Halsted at Hopkins, with a defined curriculum and graded responsibility over a specified number of years.

His successor, Samuel Clark Harvey (1924–1948), was a renowned surgical oncologist who developed the surgical residency into a nationally recognized program.

Gustav Lindskog (1948–1966) was an innovator and superb practitioner in the young field of thoracic surgery. His interest in thoracic oncology led to work with Goodman and Gilman in their research into drugs that might have antineoplastic properties. Lindskog was the first to administer nitrogen mustard to a patient and was considered a pioneer in the infant field of chemotherapy.

Lindskog recruited William Glenn to develop the brand new field of cardiac surgery at Yale. Glenn developed the Glenn shunt, widely used for the palliative treatment of several types of congenital heart disease. Glenn also developed the first working model of an artificial heart (using parts from an Erector set!), which now resides in the Smithsonian.

Jack Cole (1966–1975) enlarged the department, established new sections, and fostered research activities by faculty and residents. Cole became the inaugural Director of the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the first federally funded cancer centers in the country, and one which has been continually funded since its inception.

Robert Udelsman (2001–2016) immediate past chair.

Michael Caty (2016-) currently is the interim chair of the department of surgery and leads a department with 14 sections, residency and fellowship programs, a diverse faculty, and extensive translational research.

The history of the Medical School and the Hospital are inextricably entwined, though they remain independent. The combined institutions have pioneered many firsts, including

  • The first administration of penicillin to a patient in the U.S. (1942)
  • Rooming in for mothers and new babies (1946)
  • Isolation of the polio virus (1953)
  • Fetal heart monitoring (1957)
  • The discovery of melatonin (1959)
  • The first intensive care unit for newborn infants (1960)
  • The insulin infusion pump (1979) among others.

This tradition of innovation is alive and well throughout the medical center. We invite you to join us in the quest for new knowledge and for new tools to deliver the world's finest and most advanced medical care to patients.